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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Tennis & golfer's elbow

Tuke tēnehi me tuke hahaupōro

Tennis elbowTennis elbow is a condition causing pain around the outside of your elbow. Golfer's elbow is pain around the inside of your elbow. In both conditions, the pain can move down to your forearm. Certain movements, such as gripping or twisting can make it worse. Some people have constant pain that causes disability and disrupts their sleep.

You're most at risk of tennis or golfer's elbow if you:

The medical name for tennis elbow is lateral epicondylitis (ep-ee-con-di-lie-tis) and the medical name for golfer's elbow is medial epicondylitis.

Symptoms of tennis & golfer's elbow

Symptoms you might have include pain on the inside of your elbow (golfer's elbow) or on the outside (tennis elbow). The pain may be worst with lifting, gripping and twisting movements.

Diagnosing tennis and golfer's elbow

Your doctor or physiotherapist will diagnose tennis and golfer's elbow by examining your arm and talking to you about your symptoms and any injuries you've had.

Unless you've had a blow to your elbow, such as hitting it against a hard surface, which might have caused another injury like a broken bone, you shouldn't need an X-ray.

Self-care for tennis and golfer's elbow

With the right treatment, tennis and golfer's elbow usually go away within six months to two years. But they can come back.

When the pain first starts, using ice against your elbow can help to make it more comfortable. Put crushed ice in a damp towel and hold it against your elbow for 15 minutes. If you have sensitive skin, smear it with oil before applying the ice pack.

Simple pain relievers can also help. Paracetamol can work well and is safe, as long as you take it according to the instructions. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (also called NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen can help, but you shouldn't take them for more than a few days without talking to your doctor. Do not take NSAIDs if you have kidney, heart or stomach problems.

Strengthening the muscles in your forearm can help you avoid getting tennis or golfer's elbow in the future. This is especially important if you work in a job or have a hobby that puts you at risk of developing pain again. A physiotherapist can help you do this, or your coach can help you improve your technique if your sport is causing the pain.

If you think that something you do at work is causing your pain, talk to your manager about changing how you work, or even changing your role. If a repetitive movement at work has caused the pain, your injury might be covered by ACC, and you might get help with the cost of treatment and time away from work. Talk to your general practice team or ACC about this.

Treating tennis & golfer's elbow

Sometimes tennis and golfer's elbow can get better simply by changing the way you do things and using pain relief. But if it's very painful right from the start, it's likely you'll need further treatment.

Physiotherapy

Your physiotherapist can help with massage, strengthening exercises and stretches.

They may also suggest you use a special brace that takes the strain off the area that is causing pain and allows it to heal.

Steroid injections

If your elbow isn't getting better after six weeks of treatment, your doctor or physiotherapist might recommend you have a steroid injection. Steroid injections help to reduce pain in the short term, but they do not stop it coming back. Also, research shows that people who have steroid injections might not do as well in the long-term as those who have just had physiotherapy.

If you do have a steroid injection, you should make sure you also continue with physiotherapy.

Other non-surgical treatments

Some specialists use new therapies that help healing by creating controlled inflammation around the injured area. These therapies seem to work quite well in the short term but because they're new, we do not know how well they work over the long term.

Surgery

Almost all cases of tennis and golfer's elbow can be treated without surgery. But if your pain has not got better after six months or if it's very bad, your general practice team or physiotherapist might refer you to a specialist.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.

Sources

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